Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina speaking at the 2012 Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, Virginia.
One way to read Jim DeMint’s departure from the Senate is as representative of a split between Tea Party Republicans—who hated Mitt Romney and insist on a return to absolute intransigence—and their more establishment-minded counterparts, who have begun to resign themselves to the fact that President Obama has leverage and political capital on his side. I think this is a little exaggerated—there’s still plenty of synergy between the two wings of the party—but there is truth in the analysis. Writing at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi uses this take to make a smart point about where the Republican Party currently stands, it where it could go:
[T]he Democrats were facing a similarly bitter split not too long ago, when their party’s mainstream unforgivably backed Bush’s idiotic Iraq invasion and then saddled us with a war-waffling presidential candidate in John Kerry. And just like the Republicans after Romney, the Democrats after the Kerry loss felt hopeless, depressed and self-hating – you heard a lot of “Screw it, I’m moving to Iceland” talk. Four years later, the party sold the identical Kerry policy package in an exciting new Obama wrapper, and suddenly people were partying in the streets. You just never know how these things will turn out.
I’m not sure that Barack Obama offered a package identical to the one presented by John Kerry—in part because the party had moved to the left on issues like health care—but the basic point is correct: Substantive reform isn’t necessary to the GOP’s future chances.
For as much as the Republican Party is harmed by the lack of a positive agenda outside of tax cuts and deregulation—and for as much as it seems incapable of even acknowledging core problems like mass unemployment and high inequality—it still has a fair shot at winning the 2014 midterm elections (with additional seats in the House and Seat), and a decent shot at winning the White House in 2016, given how voters tend to reject more than eight years of governance by a single party.
As long as the GOP can offer the appearance reform—by placing the same ideas in new, multicultural packaging (see: Marco Rubio)—it can likely convince the public—to say nothing of key elites—that it deserves power. To wit, the mere mention of poverty by Rubio and Paul Ryan was enough for moderate Republicans David Brooks and Ross Douthat to declare a new era of reform.
In four years, there will only be more of this, even as the new crop of GOP candidates offer the same ideas that have defined Republican policymaking for the past thirty years.